Saturday, May 12, 2012

the circus is in town, and no it’s not us...

As an added treat, the largest circus in Central America (so they claim) has rolled into town.  Some of us will check it out in the free time.

Yesterday, we had a great meeting with the Cornerstone Foundation about a health accessibility mapping project to benefit the people of San Ignacio.  Students listened attentively to the lecture led by the foundation’s director.  They then developed a plan to identify different GIS layers needed to suppport the data requests of the Cornerstone Foundation.  the students quickly learned that unlike most US GIS projects there is not much readily available data.  Thus, they headed into the field in small groups to interview residents, collect GPS points, document attribute data, and create field notes for later inclusion in GIS.  By most accounts it was a hot, but interesting day.  What’s most exciting is I think the students came up with a creative analysis of the problems identified by the Cornerstone Foundation.  The student maps will be directly shared with the community and the Cornerstone Foundation in the next few weeks.
In the evening, we had some free time.  About half the group went on a night hike through the jungle.  It was not so good. The animals were not having it, so we didn’t see much.  Saw some scorpions, ants, frogs, a toad, an owl, and a bunch of very small spiders.  Other students stuck around town and had some dinner and fun.
Today we woke up and headed out to Cahal Pech (a Maya ruin site).  Students again created sketch maps and detailed field notes about another important tourism hotspot.  Great stuff.  I then went rogue and off script like Joe Biden.  We took a trip to Rodriguez’ Roadside Chicken Stand (owned by the brother of our driver: Ramone).  I sprung for lunch since I poorly communicated the wake up times two days in a row!  We had great barbecue chicken, a loveley lime drink, and some fresh tortillas.  It hit the spot and brought most spirits back up. 
Now the students are out in the field collecting data for the final projects. 
Tonight we head to the Village of San Antonio for a traditional Maya dinner.  Should be delicious and relaxing.
Tomorrow we head to Mountain Pine Ridge.  It’s a challening trip for all of us especially with the heat, but I think overall its going well.  More soon from a sun burnt, excited and sore professor.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Day 2 in the books

Our first full day in San Ignacio is officially in the books.  Today we spent a very hot morning at the Mayan site of Xunantunich followed by some cave tubing at Jaguar Paw.  Both of these stops were meant to showcase two of Belize's top income by tourism attractions.  Tonight, the students are required to post to their journals a reflection of how the use of GIS would assist and enhance the tourism of Belize through these two specific attractions. 

While at Xunantunich, the students were collecting GPS points of several of the ruins, and also recording relevant qualitative information about the village, Mayan culture (rituals, games, etc.) as well as the overall layout of the community and features of the physical environmental.  A brief sketch of the surroundings and the layout of the village was collected in data notebooks, all to be collected together as layers of information in GIS later this week.  I must point out, that we still didn't see any monkeys, and my feeling that Tim Photoshopped them into his promotional pictures is growing stronger. 

Tomorrow, we head to the Mayan site of Cahal Pech in the morning to do similar data collection.  Then in the afternoon we will meet with the Cornerstone Foundation to begin collecting and creating a healthcare map of downtown San Ignacio for their clients. 

Moving right along. 


Friday, May 4, 2012

Wednesday is the day...

All the planning is coming together. The equipment is packed, the schedule is set, and I am very excited about what is is to come when we arrive in Belize on Wednesday. More very soon... Tim

Monday, January 30, 2012

Taking the good with the bad

Hello everyone. I get to post about our last couple of days.

Well, the entire reason we came on this scouting trip was to determine if we had made the right decisions when planning the Maymester course....BEFORE we are all together. We have made some great improvements to the May trip plan, and have decided against some other things. Today we met with the President and Dean at Sacred Heart Junior College and it appears we will be collaborating with their students and science faulty on a series of community and environmental-based GIS projects with them.

On our way from Dangriga to San Ignacio, we stopped to check out one of our potential spots...
St. Herman's Cave. To the right is a picture of a Mayan artifact found inside the cave. This was Tim's first muddy caving adventure, and he cried like a little girl. It rains a lot down here, something to plan for. You don't get muddy in the social science community GIS projects....only in physical geology projects. Geographers don't always understand geologists. Here is a great picture of a man way out of his element! (believe me, I was out of mine in the communities!)

After cleaning up, we headed into San Ignacio. The next day, we went to Xunantunich, which is on the border of Guatemala, with our friend, Albert, and guide Junior (who was a part of the early exploration which then lead to more excavation of the site when UCLA came down, back in the 1980's). Combined with Tikal and Caracol, both in Guatemala, this was one of the three Mayan centers of the time, dating back to around 400BC. Below are a few shots from there.

There are so many surprises being left out of these postings, but they will certainly be worth the wait. Already looking forward to returning in May! So much to see and do, and many great people to work with. This course will be a great experience.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mud on the tires @ San Ignacio

So much today. Began the day with a trip to Xunantunich...amazing as it was last year. Had a great guide by the name of Junior. Look him up if you are in town sometime. We plan to use him in May for the Xunantunich tour. It began to rain, so we didn't do the whole thing. The great thing was that the rain kept a lot of people away, so we had the main temple almost all to ourselves. The site is massive, offers breathtaking views, and is eerily quiet. A great place to reflect. We then headed to one of the national parks, but the road was basically a mud pit. The rainy season is just ending. Tons of trucks were stuck. We didn't attempt it in our Rav4 rental. Instead our tour operator, Albert, borrowed his brother's massive diesel Toyota truck. We paid for the gas, he drove us around. Above and beyond what he had to do. If you are ever here on your own, check him out @ Yute Expeditions in Cayo District.

We then headed to a caving area to check out some options for the trip. We had a good float through the cave and river. Albert spent the entire day with us telling us about the people, history and current challenges/opportunities of Belize. I learned a lot and am pleased our students will get to learn from him in May.

We met some great folks today and had some great food.

Today I was also reminded of the randomness, excitement and energizing capacity of fieldwork with people. That's a feeling I haven't had for at least the past year, glad its back! The challenge for me is to consider how I can translate that same experience to our simply cannot be taught in a book or in a journal article. As an example of the randomness of fieldwork, our tour operator has to be the most connected guy in all of Belize. His family has been here forever and he knows everyone and their brother. His new fiance (he proposed to her last night after our evening meeting to discuss trip logistics) is a resource management student and has taken some GIS courses at University of Belize. She is going to put us in touch with some GIS folks for some long term research and teaching colloborations building upon some of the projects we already have brewing with local other contacts. There are so many great opportunities here for shared partnerships, I don't know where to begin. That's a good thing, I guess.

As I was last year, I am amazed at the hospitaly and warmth of the people that we have met along our journey. I don't feel like I am part of a business transcation setting up study abroad, but part of something learger. There is a lot of potential here and a lot of great people. I can't wait to get the students here in May!

Tomorrow: We head to Sacred Heart College to chat with the President and Dean of the College about some research projects. Then we head to Cornerstone Foundation to discuss potential projects. We then head to the jungle at duPlooy's to have a guided tour of the Belize Botanic Gardens. We'll use this time to craft some more project possibilities with Judy Duplooy, owner of the lodge our students will stay in for one night in May. After that long day we have a guided night tour of the jungle. May not get another chance to blog before we leave on Tuesday. More to come though.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dollars and Cents @ Pelican Beach, Dangriga

Hey All,

Chris and I made it to Belize this afternoon. Great plane ride; it was about half full so lots of space. We did some course planning and notetaking for May, which made the flight by.

Once we got here we had a quick drive through Belize City and ate a great lunch at Bird's Isle Cafe on the water. The snapper was amazing.

Then we had a long, scenic drive to Dangriga. Belize is at the end of the rainy season so driving on the Coastal Rd. to Dangriga (which is tough on a good day) was discouraged to us by everyone we spoke with. We took the longer, more scenic route on the main highways and had a great trip into Dangriga. What I found most fascinating were the elevation changes between Belize City and Dangriga. I guess I wasn't paying that much attention last time I was here. Another cool thing, oranges were in full harvest...lots of hussle and bussle and orange truck traffic. Great citrus scents in the air as we drove with the windows down.

Pulled into the parking lot @ Blue Hole National Park and met a great local guide named Jobe. We set up a caving epxerience for Saturday on our way to San Ignacio. We'll do some cave tubing and some cave exploration...Chris has some cool ideas brewing for a caving adventure for the class!

@ Pelican Beach in Dangriga, the staff is amazing and friendly as they were last year as well. Such a quiet and beautiful place even on an overcast evening. Met Alfonso who helped with the bags...he gave me a quick synopsis of the weather and what to expect. A cold front is coming in tonight and might bring some light rain. He thinks it shouldn't be too bad. I asked him about some "can't miss opportunities" for our students for the May trip and he came up with a really cool idea. Don't want to spoil the surprise, but it involves some great local traditions.

Dinner was great...shrimp in garlic butter for me and grilled pork chops for Chris. Good stuff. Of course we topped it off with the local beer...Belikin. Really good, especially at 2 bucks a bottle!

The plan for tomorrow:

Early morning planning meeting tomorrow to plan some activities as the sun comes up. Then we have an 8:30 boat ride out to South Water Caye. Meeting with contacts in the Marine Reserve, then a meeting with our hotel manager to talk logisitics for May. Hopefully the rains hold off.
If we have internet access, we'll try to post something tomorrow night along with some pics. Cannot wait to bring the students in May!

We figured out some great phone options for calling back to the states. Google Voice is a penny a minute if you have internet access. If not the old ATT cards from big box stores in the ATL. Chris' calls cost about 20 bucks whereas mine cost 21 cents.

Peace, Tim

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ready for the field's tough being a geographer.

Wednesday at midnight...should be sleeping, but I am letting my mind wonder to the possibilities of Belize. I just finished up a ton of grading and preparing a final to do list before our early departure on Thursday morning. Chris Atchision, my colleague and new co-director of the Belize GIS trip, are headed to Belize Thursday through Tuesday. Tough work, I know!! This is the kind of thing I dreamed about sitting in my first intro geography course in 2000 as an Ohio Wesleyan undergraduate. I feel so energized learning from and working with community members...never done it in an international setting, so I am anxious and excited to see how it goes.

Chris and I have a jam-packed schedule...guided site visits to Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, Blue Hole National Park, the Barrier Reef, and more.

We also have some important meetings set up for our fieldwork. I am particularly interested in chatting with the Belize Botanical Garden and Medicine Trail folks, Sacred Heart Junior College and The Cornerstone Foundation about some potential mapping projects with our students and community residents.

If I have some time and the technology cooperates I plan to post some blog updates of our Belize travels.

More soon,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Belize Trip Enrollment & Planning Trip

A quick update. It looks like our enrollment for the Belize Maymester course is at 22 students! WOW. What an overwhelming response. To accommodate the massive interest, my colleague, Dr. Chris Atchison, will also be joining us this May. It is going to be a great trip.

Chris and I head to Belize next Thursday for 6 days to do our final planning visit. We will try to post some pics and updates as we go.

Take care, Tim